Dolmetsch’s Ornamentenschatz

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If Racinet’s Polychromatic Ornament (1869–1873) was the French answer to The Grammar of Ornament (1856) by Owen Jones, then Heinrich Dolmetsch’s Der Ornamentenschatz (1887) is the German response to both, an equally lavish collection of colour plates showing ornamental decoration through the ages. Dolmetsch’s book follows the same chronological format as its counterparts, the main difference being an emphasis on objects as much as patterns or small portions of design. And being a German book, there’s rather more attention given to the German Renaissance than you might find elsewhere.

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Racinet’s Polychromatic Ornament

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The publication of Owen Jones’ landmark volume, The Grammar of Ornament (1856), prompted decoration curators in other countries to try their hands at equally lavish collections of historic ornament. The first edition of Auguste Racinet’s L’Ornement Polychrome was published by Firmin-Didot from 1869–1873; a second edition appeared in 1885–1887. The plates here are from a British reprinting of the first edition from 1877, and are a recent addition to the Internet Archive’s collection of scanned volumes. I’d seen some of these plates before in a Flickr set but you can’t always trust Flickr users to upload a complete collection of anything (or label things adequately), and the set omitted the introductory material.

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Racinet’s book follows the format of Jones’ plates in attempting to represent multiple examples of a historic period (or a regional style) on a single page, but does so with greater ingenuity. Many of the pages achieve this so well that they’re notable pieces of design in themselves. Another thing the Jones and Racinet volumes share which we miss is the metallic inks; Racinet’s pages are embellished in gold and silver which reproduce here as brown and grey. Some scanned books really need to be seen in their original printings.

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Christopher Dresser’s Studies in Design

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The previous post about Christopher Dresser’s design studies proved popular so here’s another discovery from the same source. A surprise this time was seeing the middle motif on the page above; I have this separated from its neighbours in a collection of Art Nouveau graphics, and used it on the slipcase of a Cradle of Filth CD in 2002. Studies in Design (1876) is a collection of colour plates of Dresser’s design work. Some of these emulate medieval or Arabian/Persian decoration but the most interesting examples for me are Dresser’s more personal pieces. Once you’ve seen a few of these his style is easy to recognise. Thanks to some searching by Mr TjZ I now know that a number of collections of Dresser’s designs are available from (who else?) Dover Publications. More for the shopping list.

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Christopher Dresser’s Art of Decorative Design

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Studies of decorative design are numerous but this one stands out for the quality of its colour plates, all of which show a variety of designs derived from plants and flowers. The Art of Decorative Design (1862) is one of a number of design books published in the wake of the Great Exhibition of 1851, the most celebrated being Owen Jones’ lavish Grammar of Ornament. Christopher Dresser was a professor of ornamental art and botany who here continues where The Grammar of Ornament ends, exploring the floral design that’s a recurrent feature of Victorian decoration. What’s most remarkable for me about some of these designs is the way they prefigure the forms of Art Nouveau, a style that wouldn’t emerge for another thirty years.

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Kunstgewerbliche Schmuckformen für die Fläche

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Kunstgewerbliche Schmuckformen für die Fläche is another collection of decorative plates intended as a reference book for designers, and it’s proved its usefulness by providing me with a motif I can use in one of the things I’ve been working on this week. This book differs from others by being the first in a series that runs to at least eight volumes, going by the uploads at the Internet Archive. The first number is vaguely Art Nouveau in style, the later volumes feature designs that are much more bold and abstract. Anyone wishing to see the full set is advised to search for the title to compensate for the inconsistencies of the Internet Archive’s cataloguing system. This volume and the others are part of a recent batch of uploads from the library of the Glasgow School of Art so I’m looking forward to browsing some of the other titles. Via Beautiful Century.

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